Vision of ex-President and his fall from grace | Sunday Observer

Vision of ex-President and his fall from grace

30 July, 2022

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a vision and a mission which he outlined in the mandate “Vistas for Propserity and Splendour”. One of the important matters President Rajapaksa intended to accomplish was to focus on the principles such as accessible transport systems, energy efficiency and environmental protection mechanisms, increased safety and security as possible positive contributions to the economy by introducing electric buses which would enable the Government to save a large amount of foreign exchange which the Government incurs for importation of diesel fuel. President Rajapaksa’s vision was to achieve the following goals.

• Promote the efficient movement of people to support sustainable economic development.

• Promote social inclusion to allow equitable access to all.

• Provide safe transport system that minimises health risk by prevention of greenhouse gases being emitted to the environment in diesel operated vehicles.

In terms of the mandate of “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” a concept initiated by President Rajapaksa, his attention was focused to improve the public transport sector (PTS) by modernisation of the SLTB and re-fleeting of the current bus stock by introducing environmentally friendly green transport buses; which will provide comfortable transport facilities and minimise traffic congestion, air pollution due to heavy traffic volumes and greenhouse gases emitted by the large number of diesel operated buses and other vehicles. Road transport contributes to a considerable emission showing a steady growth every year

President Rajapaksa foresaw what was in store for the future of Sri Lanka particularly in the energy and environmental sector and, therefore, instructed the State Ministry of Vehicle Regulation, Bus Transport Services, Railway Compartments and Motor Car Industry to submit a proposal to the Government for introducing electric buses to Sri Lanka. Secretary to the State Ministry, Lallith Alwis, wasted no time in negotiating with a foreign investor to fund the project.

Discussions were held with Wishful Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, representative in Sri Lanka for Hong Kong Wai Hung Machineries Trading Limited the feasibility of introducing electric buses in Sri Lanka to meet the goals and objectives of the Ministry in upgrading the diesel operated bus fleet of the Sri Lanka Transport Board.

Electric buses

In terms of the proposal, the foreign investor would invest US$ Fifty Million (US$ 50,000,000.00) for the provision of 200 electric buses. Initially, it was envisaged to introduce 100 electric buses. Extensive discussion was held by the State Ministry, Wishful Lanka (Pvt) Ltd and the SLTB. The agreed terms between the parties were finalised and the proposal was submitted to the Government. As the usual scenario in Sri Lanka, obtaining approval from the Cabinet has to be recommended by several sectors which generally is a time consuming and time wasting exercise given the importance of the project and the benefits that the country would derive are extensive.

President Rajapaksa was unfortunately ousted from power not because he was an inefficient President, but simply due to the deceit of his own Ministers, advisers and the government officials responsible for taking the decisions and advising the President.

President Rajapaksa, addressing senior Transport Ministry officials, said that every successive Government in the country earned public wrath due to inefficiency of the public service. He added that all government institutions which are close to the day-to-day life of the public should run in an efficient and transparent manner and they should be free from corruption. “The inefficiency in the public service will end during his tenure of office,” he said.

In his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman said that “in the globalisation system, one of the most important and enduring competitive advantages that a country can have today is a lean, effective, honest civil service.” In other words, public service matters, and an effective, efficient, accountable public service can be part of a country’s comparative advantage.

For all countries, big and small, globalisation and the knowledge revolution are the realities of today. They result in fundamental changes in the way we work and live.

National policy

The National Transport Commission (NTC) was set up under the NTC Act No 37 of1991. The functions of the Commission, which is an institution that is engaged in the day-to-day lives of the public in the context of public transport, are to advise the Government on the national policy relating to public transport. The NTC would also have a leading role to play if and when the electric bus project in Sri Lanka gets under way. The question that has to be asked is whether the NTC is an effective institution. The answer would be no.

The NTC is the authority for setting the rules, regulations and guidelines for the transport sector, particular the public bus transportation sector. The NTC submits various rules and conditions which are never adhered to particularly by the private bus operators. The NTC always seems to give in to the demands of the private bus mafia governed by thugs. What happened to the rule of providing a ticket to every passenger, what happened to the uniform the bus crew were supposed to dress?

Most bus conductors operating in the metropolitan area of Colombo and its suburbs do not have a conductor’s licence. Most of them can safely be categorised as drug addicts and anti-social elements. Rarely has it be known for the NTC to examine the credentials of bus conductors.

The failure on the part of Government institutions such as the NTC is diverted towards the Government and invariably to the President. The President is not omnipotent; he gets his power and strength to lead the country when government institutions are functioning properly. When the system fails, albeit not because the President is inefficient, people demand for system change and that is what Sri Lanka is facing today.

The prime responsibility for transport planning lies with the Government as a result of the growing awareness of the interdependency of transportation planners with all other aspects of the urban process. Decisions are no longer made solely on economic advantages of the Government, but now governed primarily by acceptance of criteria covering a wide range of social, economic, environmental and service impacts.

It is this vision of the Government’s responsibility that President Rajapaksa had in mind when he addressed officials of the transport sector and wanted them to discharge their duties in an efficient and transparent manner which, of course, is a far cry from reality as public service institutions of Sri Lanka have never been to serve the interest of the public as most public institutions consist of corrupt and inefficient officials.

President Rajapaksa had a plan of bringing peace and prosperity to Sri Lanka. He ensured that the city of Colombo is one of the cleanest cities in Asia.

He built walking paths for people to exercise. Today, people walk down those paths criticising Rajapaksa without really understanding what was behind his fall from grace.

Rajapaksa would have still been the President had he not surrounded himself with crooks and deceitful Ministers and heads of government departments and institutions. Perhaps the President did not realise what the motive of these persons was and trusted them without suspecting them of their intensions.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, a seasoned politicians will have a better idea as to who the crooks within Parliament are and would do well to keep them away from giving positions. There should be a change in the line of thinking in appointing persons particularly to the post of a Minister or Deputy Minister.

Those who have a tarnished record by holding positions previously should not be appointed under any circumstances.